Bush Cells Out, States Step In

Some possible good news this week for Americans suffering from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, spinal cord injury and stroke. Supporters of a bill to fund embryonic stem cell research may have the support they need to pass the measure in the Maryland House of Delegates. This comes a few months after legislation was introduced in Minnesota on January 6, 2005, to allow the University of Minnesota to use state funds for stem cell research and establish a state policy that the use of embryonic and other stem cells for research be allowed. Last November, strides were made in California, where citizens approved a $3 billion ballot initiative for embryonic stem cell studies overwhelmingly, 59% to 41%.

This is all part of a growing debate in this country about stem-cell research, which could hold promise for individuals suffering with debilitating diseases. State governments have been forced to step in to advance stem cell research, since President Bush decided on August 9, 2001, to authorize funding of stem cell research using only existing pluripotent stem cell lines, thus prohibiting federal funding of stem cell lines derived after that date. Not funding research since August 9, 2001, has hampered research that could ultimately save the lives of people suffering from a multitude of diseases.

Unlike adult stem cells, embryonic stem cells, generally referred to as pluripotent stem cells, can develop into most of the specialized cells or tissues in the human body. Because these cells can give rise to many different types of cells, such as muscle cells, nerve cells, heart cells, and blood cells, they are very important to scientific study and hold great promise for advances in health care. Stem cells offer the possibility of a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues to treat diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, new medications for a variety of diseases could be tested on embryonic stem cell lines. Pluripotent stem cells are derived from embryos that develop from eggs that have been fertilized in vitro – not in a woman’s body – and then are donated for research purposes with the informed consent of the donors. These are embryos that would have been discarded if they were not donated for stem cell research.

If the federal government does not take action to fund new stem cell lines, it will no longer be in a position to regulate the implementation of the research nor to lead in the advancement of the science.

— Sarah Fleisch